Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Fort Carson Mountaineer

Guard SEA visits space, missile defense units

By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely | National Guard Bureau

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Colorado is the hub of Department of Defense space and missile defense operations, and the state’s National Guard members are supporting these expanding domains.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Tony Whitehead, the senior enlisted adviser to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, joined Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Perry, the Colorado Guard’s senior enlisted leader, June 28, 2022, to visit Airmen and Soldiers charged with these missions.

“These Soldiers and Airmen are some of our best and brightest,” Whitehead said. “The amount of training they undergo and their level of expertise in operating complex systems that contribute to the space and missile defense missions is nothing short of remarkable.”

Air National Guard members comprise roughly 15 percent of the Department of the Air Force’s space professionals and serve in seven states and Guam. Additionally, Colorado has the sole space battalion in the Army National Guard. Up and down Colorado’s Front Range — from Greeley to Colorado Springs, Air and Army Guard members provide space-based capabilities including early missile warning, geospatial imagery, homeland missile defense and space support to ground forces.

In Colorado, space is a joint effort. The COARNG’s 117th Space Battalion — headquartered on Fort Carson — operates under the 1st Space Brigade, the Army’s only space brigade, and U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

The 117th Battalion provides geospatial imagery support to domestic operations in Colorado and beyond, during wildfire and flood response missions. Additionally, the unit supports warfighters in forward areas by delivering space support to troops with boots on the ground. The 117th has 12 Army Space Support Teams (ARSSTs) each comprising six Guard members. Every ARSST is assigned to one of the Army National Guard infantry divisions.

ARSSTs rapidly deploy globally, allowing warfighters the ability to leverage space capabilities by providing space products and expertise to field units, enhancing their intelligence and operational planning. Every ARSST Soldier undergoes extensive training and serves in a different role, based on rank and specialty, including satellite communications, intelligence, and geospatial engineering. All ARSST members provide expertise in space support operations. The 117th deploys a space support team every nine months in support of division deployments.

Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Cole, the 117th Battalion’s enlisted leader, said the 117th has deployed teams on a near-continuous basis for the past two decades, starting in Iraq in 2003.

“Every time they deploy, we deploy with them,” said Cole. “ARSSTs is a division-level asset that supports theater operations. Our Soldiers are trained and ready to provide whatever is needed.”

Whitehead also met with 100th Missile Defense Brigade Soldiers on Schriever Space Force Base. The 100th Brigade is the nation’s only military unit tasked with defending the homeland from long-range ballistic missile threats using defensive ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

Rotating crews primarily comprising Colorado Guard Soldiers operate around the clock inside the Missile Defense Element at Schriever — colloquially known as “the node.” They, and their 49th Missile Defense Battalion counterparts at Fort Greely, stand ready to engage and destroy inbound ICBM threats to the U.S. and designated areas, a duty the unit has continually executed since 2004.

This is a mission that must regularly evolve to keep pace with threats. 100th Soldiers are closely involved in the research and development of the complex Ground-based Midcourse Defense Fire Control System. This is a system of systems that relies on an array of global sensors, including assets such as the space-based infrared satellite, controlled by Space Force operators at Buckley Space Force Base.

While the 100th includes a small mix of active Army Soldiers, most 100th Soldiers are guardsmen. This gives them the ability to remain in positions for longer durations to develop an expertise that becomes mastery.

Whitehead recognized one such Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Javier Solla, a future operations officer. Solla has worked in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense mission since 2009 when he left Puerto Rico to join the 49th Battalion. From there, he moved to the 100th to work as a missile defender.

“Knowing that we are always there to take action against any situation that affects the freedom and our family’s way of life, creates pride and dedication,” Solla said. “Not only to ourselves but to every U.S. citizen.”

Across Colorado, space and missile defense operators are working together to defend the homeland, support troops overseas and help when disaster strikes at home.

“Our Guard members are at the forefront of the space and missile defense missions across the globe,” Whitehead said. “I’m so proud of these Colorado Guardsmen who contribute to these growing missions.”

Guard SEA visits space, missile defense units
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